Ever gave a thought on what could be the impact of sleep on mental health? Well, medical experts will describe it in different terms backing each of it with research papers but let’s keep things simple today. Speaking in layman’s terms, here’s how we want to put it. What gas is for cars, sleep is for the brain. As simple as that!
When the fuel tank is full, you drive and reach where you want to. However, as time passes, the gauge drops down until it entirely declines and that’s when your car stops. Further, without the required amount of fuel is filled back, the car fails to work.
Now, apply this scenario to your health where the car is your brain or body and fuel is the sleep you give to it every night.
Sleep is one of the most important aspects of your health just the way breathing, eating, and drinking is. Good sleep allows:
- Your body to repair
- Your brain to consolidate the memories and process them
Being sleep deprived or poor sleep quality is often associated with different issues like:
- Erratic behaviour
- Emotional instability
- Weak immune system
- Poor cognitive performance
- Ability to focus on day-to-day activities properly
Sleep and Mental Health: The Connection
Mental health and sleep are closely associated with each other. Being sleep deprived affects your overall psychological state. On the other hand, people with mental disorders are more likely to suffer from insomnia and other sleep problems over time.
Most Americans are sleep deprived. We all know that and studies have already proven that. But individuals with psychiatric problems are more likely to be groggy or yawning during the daytime.
Further, chronic sleep conditions affect 50 – 80% of the patients in a usual psychiatric practice where 10 – 18% of them are from the U.S. alone.
Sleep problems tend to be more common in individuals with:
- Bipolar disorder
- ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
Though the brain basis of mutual relationships between mental health and sleep isn’t yet fully understood, many neurochemistry & neuroimaging studies have stated that a good night’s rest helps foster emotional and mental resilience. Being chronic sleep deprived calls for emotional vulnerability and negative thinking.
Excessive sleepiness, on the other hand, not only impacts your overall physical health but also has a huge impact on your mental health.
Note: When you don’t get 7-9 hours of sleep that you need every night, things can change significantly over time. It can drastically influence your life’s outlook, energy levels, emotions, and motivation.
If you are feeling tired, you might not even realize that improper sleep is the main culprit. Shockingly, even little sleep deprivation levels over time adds up, affecting your happiness and the way you feel emotionally.
Eventually, you will notice that you are more irritable, less enthusiastic, and even end up having a few signs of clinical depression (like feeling persistently empty or sad). Together, they alter your mood, affecting your mental health as a whole.
The connection between your mood and sleep has been long seen by various doctors and researchers throughout the world.
Key Points to Note:
- People suffering from insomnia tend to have higher levels of anxiety and depression when compared to the usual sleepers. Individuals who are sleep deprived are 10x more likely to suffer from clinical depression and 17x likely to undergo clinical anxiety. Since insomniacs are more likely to stay awake at night, it results in depression eventually.
- Obstructive sleep apnea (where an individual wakes up frequently and briefly at night) is associated with depression too. In fact, people with this condition are 5x more likely to have clinical depression.
- Speaking of obstructive sleep apnea in specific, researchers claim that when you have a disturbed sleep over again and again, it can change your neurochemicals and brain activity, affecting your overall thinking ability and mood.
How Sleep Affects Your Mental Health?
In every 90 minutes, normal sleepers cycle between 2 main stages of sleep, which include:
- Quiet sleep
- REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep
However, the amount of time spent on either one or the other stage changes, as your sleep progresses.
Here, you progress through 4 phases of progressively deep sleep and is also the time when your:
- Body temperature declines
- Heart rate drops
- Breathing becomes slow
- Muscles relax
The deepest phase of quiet sleep generates physiological changes, which help boost your immunity.
REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the stage when you dream and is also the time when your blood pressure, body temperature, breathing levels, and heart rate are similar to the ones when you are awake.
REM sleep boosts your:
- Learning ability
- Emotional health
Though researchers are trying to analyze all the mechanisms much deeper, they have reported that sleep disruption can affect your stress hormones and neurotransmitters to a great extent.
In fact, it can wreak havoc in your brain, damaging your emotional and thinking regulation. Now, if these were to add up with conditions like insomnia, it only amplifies the effects further.
What Does the Research Say?
Lack of good sleep increases the risk of developing a wide range of mental health conditions. A recent study (which involved 979 young adults from Michigan) reported that insomnia was deeply linked with four times the risk of depression after 3 years.
Another detailed review involving different studies found that insomnia led to the onset of not just anxiety but also depression and bipolar disorder. The experts even found an association between insomnia and suicide.
During this 2020 study highlighted in the JAMA Psychiatry, researchers found a connection between sleeping issues in childhood and the progress of psychosis & borderline personality disorder during adolescence.
Sleep disturbances are one of the common features of most mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.
The link between mood and sleep is complicated because disturbed sleep often leads to clinical depression, anxiety, emotional changes, and other psychiatric problems.
In fact, modified sleeping patterns are also a hallmark of different mental health issues. Therefore, if you see yourself sleeping in excess or too little regularly, it’s vital to explain this to your doctor because he or she is the right person to look into this and decide what test needs to be done further so that the right treatment is administered at the right time.